Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cordova: February 19-21

The Chugach is big. It is unlike any mountain range in the lower 48. I can't even tell if it trends North-South or East-West. It spills into the Cook Inlet and PWS. It spans from Anchorage to Canada. Valdez, Whittier, Girdwood, Palmer, Wasilla, Glenallen, and Cordova all lie within its shadow.

From my house, the Chugach starts off innocent enough. Rolling foothills with hardly a hint a what lies beyond. From the foothills, the Chugach begins to reveal her majesty. Jagged snow covered peaks dot the horizon. From the jagged peaks, glaciers appear. Big glaciers, and this is still within the Anchorage city limits. From a plane, bigger peaks come into view, 12,000' ridges, deep fjords, glaciers meeting the ocean. It seems endless and from a mountaineering point of view it is.

The recent long weekend provided the time and work trips provided a frequent flier ticket. Cordova sits on the Pacific nestled into Prince William Sound. There are no roads to this town: fly, boat, or glacier trek. AK has a class of commercial aviation that has no security. It seems limited to propeller driven planes. No questions, no pat downs, no metal detectors; guns and white gas are fine, I guess.

"I'd rather have a scary flight than have to deal with TSA" was overheard as we boarded the 16 passenger Havelin.

The Friday night flight was bumpy and runway in Cordova had 3" of fresh. Snow was coming in sideways. PWS is notorious for lousy weather and I wondered if there would be much of a view over the weekend. Saturday dawned grey and snowy, a good day to check out Eyak and their 1939 single chair imported from Sun Valley. I arrived at Eyak to realize first chair is at noon, but if I wanted to hang out for 15 minutes they were going to fire up the lift for a few pre-public laps. Nice suss! There are no marked trails, no groomers, and not much bamboo despite hazards aplenty. Eyak has an open boundary policy and the runs above the resort off of "The Ridge" are stunning. From the top of the lift start skinning with Eyak Lake on the right, Orca Sound on your left, PWS behind you, and Eyak Peak towering above you.

The storm had run its course and the snow was A+. The shots off of "The Ridge" were skiing fabulous. Snow ghosts, pillow lines, drops, compressions, rollers all set against a glimmering Pacific. Above tree-line was a different story: the wind was ripping. The day had gone full blue and the sun dared me to venture higher. Mountain Eyak beckoned.

I headed up the ridge above the trees and into the wind. Howling and cold, but brilliantly lit. There were definite wind slabs forming, but the ridge is gentle until about 300' from the summit. I wanted it, but common sense dictated that I use some common sense. Damn you to hell, common sense! I was able to ski through a steep pitch on a wind scoured ridge punctuated by stunted pines hiding under rime. After 5 nice laps above the ski hill, it was time to head back. The lift had closed by this point and the sun was setting over the sound. The slopes under the lift were still skiing nicely which allowed me to enjoy the view. It was time to fuel and rest for tomorrow.

- James "Jim" Lahey

Mountain Eyak from High on "The Ridge"

Sunset over the Harbor

Mountains Eccles and Shiels from Downtown

Eyak's Single Chair and Orca Inlet

PWS from "The Ridge"

1 comment:

  1. Does Eyak have a tram too or is that it? What color is the tram?